Rice University1, Baker Institute for Public Policy2
Many constituents in Texas are discussing brackish groundwater as a promising resource to meet future water supply needs. It is estimated that Texas aquifers contain more than 880 trillion gallons of brackish groundwater, which, if converted to freshwater, could meet current consumption needs for 150 years, albeit at a greater water treatment cost. Since 2009, the State of Texas has funded efforts to increase knowledge and understanding of brackish groundwater resources and the technologies needed to use them effectively. As use of brackish groundwater increases, questions have arisen concerning how to best manage it. Regulation of water in the United States is largely under the jurisdiction of the individual states. This places the matter of dealing with projected and emerging water stresses squarely on the shoulders of Texas lawmakers. Indeed, water will likely be a key issue in the 2015 Texas Legislative Session and, as such, we consider the following question timely and relevant: "Given the legal and geographic context of Texas, what actions--regulatory and otherwise--are desirable to best manage the state's supply of brackish groundwater?" We begin by discussing desirable goals for the management of brackish groundwater in Texas, including enhancing the state's freshwater supply to meet current and future water demand, producing brackish groundwater in an environmentally benign way, and protecting property rights under Texas law. We place these goals within the context of the current regime for managing groundwater in Texas. We then consider efforts by other jurisdictions to regulate brackish groundwater effectively. This is followed by an examination of policies proposed in the 2013 legislative session and deliberated by stakeholders in the interim. We conclude by offering policy recommendations to achieve the aforementioned water management goals.